Thousands of people gathered on the outskirts of Nairobi on Monday in Kibera, Africa’s biggest informal settlement, for the global celebration of World Habitat Day in a festive atmosphere punctuated by calls on policy makers around the world to make cities engines of rural development.
The idea of Cities - engines of rural development as the theme this year was to remind policy-makers at every level not to think of “urban” and “rural” as separate entities, but rather as parts of an economic and social whole.
“In the next 25 years, virtually all population growth will take place in the world’s cities, most of it in the cities of developing countries,” said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message read on his behalf by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.
“The fastest growing cities will be secondary and market towns, which are especially close to rural areas. This growth can help to improve rural life and ease the problems associated with mega-cities. But to do so, it will need to be well-managed, with significant investments in communication, transport channels and other infrastructure, and with concerted efforts to ensure that all people have access to adequate services,” Mr. Annan’s message said.
Kenyan President Mr. Mwai Kibaki, Roads and Public Works Minister Mr. Raila Odinga, Lands and Housing Minister Mr. Amos Kimunya, Mrs. Tibaijuka, and other speakers drew frequent applause from the crowd as they spelled out new thinking on ways to alleviate urban poverty.
“We needed to be dramatic in the wording of the theme this year,” said Mrs. Tibaijuka, “to remind policy makers around the world that sustainable development can only be achieved if rural and urban areas are considered part of an inter-dependent, mutually reinforcing economic and social order. This is also the essence of the recommendations that have emerged from the Inter-Regional Conference on Urban-Rural Development Linkages we hosted in the days just prior to World Habitat Day.”
President Kibaki said that only a proper balance between urban and rural areas would serve to improve living conditions in both areas: “In a developing country like Kenya, rural poverty is a cause of informal settlements and massive migration into urban centres and it has overwhelmed the capacity of the authorities to provide basic services for all.”
Every year since 1985, when it was officially designated by the UN General Assembly, World Habitat Day has been celebrated annually on the first Monday in October to remind the world of the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter. The choice of Nairobi, Kenya, for the global celebration this year was to highlight the phenomenal rate of urbanisation in the developing world, which Kenya symbolises. Other celebrations were held in scores of cites in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe and North America.
Mrs. Tibaijuka used the occasion to present the 2004 Habitat Scroll of Honour Awards to a group of selected individuals and organizations for their commitment to the cause of human settlements development. See 2004 award winners for the list of winners.